It is common for health care providers who treat severely abused women to wonder why a woman would stay in an abusive relationship. Why would she return time and time again? Why does she stay? When one questions why a woman stays in an abusive relationship, in essence, the health care provider is holding the battered woman accountable for her abuser's behavioural choices. Unfortunately, health care providers rarely say to the abusive male, 'Why do you abuse?' Instead of questioning why she stays, it is better to reframe the question as, 'What are her barriers to leaving?''Why didn't you leave?' is holding the abused woman accountable for her abuser's behavioural choices.What are your barriers to leaving? What were your barriers to leaving? Change the why to what. Change the are to were.
"Why do you abuse?' She provoked me. Sheriden explains that so often are the women blamed for causing the violent behaviours by their male abusers that the women begin to self-blame.
Sheridan refers to research which has compared psychological abuse in domestic violence with brainwashing of war and political prisoners. He includes in his list of barriers to leaving, Stockholm syndrome (bonding with your captor), traumatic bonding (intermittent good-bad behaviour), finances, father of their children, religious faith, forgiveness, fantasies she can fix the problem, extended family reasons, friends, etc. The point is there are many barriers to leaving, many of them based on societal and familial expectations and norms.
Without reviewing the entire chapter, a few items are of interest to increase our understanding of this most common of abusive and violent experiences.
The first form of domestic violence is a combination of verbal and emotional abuse. These include name-calling, public embarrassment, veiled and explicit threats of harm, harassment, lies, 'mind games,' and other psychological manipulations.I liken this to the boiled frog analogy. If you put a frog into a pot of boiling water it will jump out to protect itself. If you put a frog in a pot of water and slowly turn up the heat the frog will slowly boil to death.
For many women, the forms of abuse change and escalate when the attempt to leave the abusive relationship. For thousands of battered women, leaving the abusive relationship is marked by increased harassment and danger. Tragically, for more than 2,000 women every year, leaving an abusive relationship results in their death and sometimes in the deaths of their children at the hands of their abusive male partners. ... These data support the assertion that the first year out of an abusive relationship is the most deadly for battered women.Another barrier to leaving. This supports the fear some women express concerning the risks to their and their children's well-being and lives if they left the abusive relationship.
When discussing the 'father' barrier to leaving, Sheridan explains that a motivator to leave the abusive relationship is when the children begin to mimic his abusive language or abusive physical behaviour. Another barrier to leaving is 'familiarity' where the woman has been brought up in an abusive home and accepts that being beaten by a man is a necessary part of being a woman. This demonstrates the generational effects of domestic abuse.
Possessing a better understanding of this phenomenon increases our chances of being part of the solution rather than part of the problem. If we are fortunate enough not to experience domestic violence personally, we can be damn sure that we will know someone who has or currently is. As instructors, it is our responsibility to have an informed understanding of the problem if we are even to offer an opinion let alone attempt to help.